The eve of the 24th. The ARF Shant Student Association and the California State University at Northridge Armenian Students Association jointly sponsored a commemorative activity on the lawn outside the student center. Unfortunately barely some 125 people were present, students and non-students. The typical filler was of course included with music and short presentations by the organizers. Then Vahram Shemmesian, in charge of Armenian studies at CSUN spoke, though it sounded like more of a plug for the Armenian program there than something germane to the eve. The highlight of the program was Hilmar Kaiser, never one to disappoint. None of the issues leading to the recent brouhaha emanating from his presentation at Princeton were part of his remarks (that fuss was part of the reason I made it a point to attend this event), yet he had provocative, and very intriguing, points. He showed pictures, most of which he had come by recently and said had not been exhibited before he found them. Through these he showed the intentionally unlivable conditions the Turks had created: children playing near a corpse while food was being cooked, all within a few meters of one another; wide open plains visible in the pictures show why no one ran away, they would have been picked off; Armenian refugees by the Euphrates with Turkish gendarmes patrolling access to water, since that’s all it took to maintain the concentration camps, Turkish style– no water, no life– who was going to flee and how? He remarked that when showing these pictures to Turks, they say “they’re Turks” based on the dress, not realizing how socially, culturally similar we were. Kaiser’s two most interesting commen’s, however, effectively centered on the Diaspora’s role and future. When he makes presentations to Turks (and a recent one was the first time it wasn’t confrontational but rather civil disagreement), they comment that they’re tired of being bashed over the Genocide. They just want it to end. So our efforts are not without effect, and he counseled continuing them. But the real eye-popper was his saying, “I am forty five. I expect to see, within my lifetime, some form of return of Armenia’s to Western Armenia”. Tantalizing, isn’t it?
From CSUN, I raced to the Montebello Martyrs’ Monument where the ARF Tro Gomide had organized its annual vigil with some 400-500 present. This includes the over 140 Homenetmen and AYF members who walked from Pasadena to the monument, and annual activity. Steve Dadaian addressed the gathering in English, noting the loss of our potential population due to the Genocide, the importance of the Sevres Treaty to our efforts, and the legal options available to us, especially with a growing number of precedents such as Yugoslavia, Northern Cyprus, and the Holocaust compensation fund. He concluded by emphasizing the importance the work done in the U.S. for recognition, Genocide instruction in schools, and enabling Armenia to conduct its part of our national struggle. Mkhitar Mouradian, in Armenian, spoke to the Turkish and Azeri efforts to burnish their image and the moral imperative of continuing our struggle that has morphed from one with guns to one conducted on multiple battlefields.
The 24th was fortunately cool this year. The march in Hollywood, organized by United Armenian Youth proceeded as usual. Some 6000 people participated. However, the rally at the end was much less packed than other years. Significant numbers left even as the program commenced. One speaker, George Apelian, tied in our struggle with the need to battle some of the social ills afflicting our youth. Of course, the former organizer, Hovig Gabigian, when speaking, made his annual ludicrous claim of “100,000 participants”. The obligatory cultural components were included, of coourseThe commen’s this year seemed to have progressed a little bit towards a targeted struggle rather than just self affirmation. But the signage and slogans were the same as ever. But a nice touch was the flags of those countries that have recognized the Genocide leading the procession. The latter also included a line of clergy. The one banner that stuck out was one from the Arshag Dikranian School “Cal Daree, Van” (Next Year, Van), a line I’d heard Vahe Oshagan advocate using 25 years ago.
The flower-laying and Hokehankeesd ceremony at the Montebello monument were next. This year, the turnout had increased. Well over 4000 people came through and paid their respects over the course of three hours. The somewhat insipid dress often evident at this gathering was less evident this year.
Of course the highlight of April 24th activities in LA is the AYF’s demonstration at the Turkish Consulate. Some 3500-4000 people participated. The closing rally consisted of a touching letter written to the Turkish Consul by 101-year-old survivor Ghazaros Kademian, Assemblymember Paul Krekorian’s scathing commen’s to the Turkish government, and the AYF’s outlining of our deman’s and current efforts in Armenian and English. Some new slogans chanted and appearing on placards lent an air of novelty to a very important gathering that is very difficult to keep energized because of Turkish intransigency and the LAPD’s cooperation with the Turks in preventing anyone from entering the building so that even the annual ritual of delivering deman’s to the government of Turkey is barred.
The fourth and final event of the day was the closing event of the United Commemorative Committee held at the Glendale Civic auditorium. Because of a last minute snag, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi was unable to attend. For reasons unknown to me, the Mayor of Glendale was also a no-show despite appearing on the program. Perhaps it’s just as well since the attendance was anemic, with only 600-700 present. Krekorian spoke here as well, though I arrived as he was closing. Armenia’s Consul General spoke, relaying an interesting point made in one of Armenia’s newspapers last year: “If our ancestors had not struggled for justice, their would have been no April 24. There’s no need to mark April 24th if we don’t aspire to justice.” But a worrisome remark he made was that “we make a distinction between Turkey and the Ottoman Empire,” though he followed up with the observation that Turkey is culpable for denial. State Senator Jack Scott spoke of his first face-to-face experience with Turkish deniers, the universality of the impact of our and any genocide, and the need for Turkish recognition, not just for the sake of justice, but for the Turks’ own good– a theme often emphasized by Hrant Dink. A video about the efforts for H. Res. 106, remarks by Board of Equalization member Judy Chiu, and a proclamation from Governor Schwarzenegger rounded out the program before it proceeded to the cultural component. Having seen enough of these performances, I departed.
This year, there were actually some activities scheduled after the 24th. One, in its seventh year, and I’m embarrassed to say unknown to me until now, is the “30 Hour Famine” held at Glendale Community College on April 26-27. This program is organized by Der Hayr Vazken Movsessian and had 38 participants this year. Most seemed to be of college age, though a twelve year old was present and a few in their forties. It is by registration, and I attended only briefly. Clearly religious in nature, it is instructional, and raises money to feed the hungry in Africa. While there the group engaged in an exercise of giving substance to the number of 29000 children dying daily around the world from hunger. Participants were to draw 768 stick figures so that aggregated, those 29,000 figures would be a visual of how many kids that really is. I heard that a significant sum was raised, though have not tracked down how much. This seems like a good way to expand the range of our Genocide activities and impact, instead of just talking about Rwanda and Darfur. Ironically, in its early years, the “famine” had been criticized for being directed towards Africa, not Armenia
Finally, on April 29th, the Prelacy had organized a gathering at St. Mary’s Church in Glendale. Just before that, I also attended the Burbank Human Relations Council’s annual Days of Remembrance for the Holocaust in the City Council Chambers and later at a local church. Of course, Armenia’s were mentioned as well in the context of the seven candles lit each year. The seventh is dedicated to another persecuted group each year. This time it was in memory of various groups who have suffered in ways such as the Navajo woman who lit the seventh candle. It’s unfortunate I had to go to the Prelacy event, since the main speaker of the day, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, was presenting a fascinating analysis of the societal rupture it takes for genocide to be conducted. But, back to the church where some 200 people attended. When I arrived, how and where clergymen were killed during the Genocide was being presented by some twenty different readers getting up in turn. We learned later that about 4000 clergy were eradicated, a number unmatched even today by that serving as our clergy. After Hayr Soorp Muron Aznigian (who has publiched a brief tract on the lost clergy of the Genocide) presented the oration for the day addressing the lost clergy and the need for restitution, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian made brief remarks about the closing event of the “season”.
For commentary about what these eighteen events I’ve covered may portend, see the separate article.
How’d We Do This Year
I attended 18 genocide related events in a span of 12 days, so I could write this article. Of course I missed some that I would have liked to see: an exhibit of Genocide posters, Orange County’s Walk for Remembrance, some events that I’d attended last year (comparing becomes more difficult), as well as those organized by smaller communities within the LA area. But some broad observations can be made.
My first gripe is about the perceived need to include song and dance in the programs organized. Often, these performances have nothing to do with the matter at hand. Yet, they’re omnipresent. Are they meant to be affirmations of our cultural survival? If so, then they should be more clearly tied in. Otherwise, they detract from the moment that ought to be one of political, activist, rededication. There’s abundant time to manifest our cultural exuberance year round.
Some patterns I’ve noticed are mixed. As always, they’re the question of numbers. I missed this year’s equivalents of three medium-sized events I attended last year. So comparison is difficult. But the Shant Student Association event was far diminished over its heyday of a few years ago. The biggest difference may be where it was held, at CSUN with that campus’ Armenian Students Association. This is a good step. Unfortunately, I suspect the low turnout was due to its being on ground unfamiliar to our community, and even more, it was not in the Glendale ghetto. This is worrisome since a significant Armenian population surrounds that campus. Lack of advertising? Perhaps. I hope that’s all it was. Otherwise, it bodes ill for our ability to maintain significant involvement once people move away from high-concentration Armenian populations. The lecture/seminar type programs had smaller attendance, but perhaps that’s to be expected and speaks to the necessity of the “song and dance” I disdain above. The big events were mixed. The Montebello martyrs’ monument turnout was close to double last year’s, whereas the AYF’s demonstration and the march in Hollywood were down, the former by perhaps 500 and the latter by two thousand. The idea that cooler weather kept people away, as someone suggested to me, doesn’t hold water since all three of these events were outdoors. So the numerical picture is mixed.
Another phenomenon is the increasing levels of religiosity in our commemorative season. This is something that had receded, perhaps too much for some. But its presence does carry the risk of giving our struggle an unnecessarily Christian vs. Moslem scent. This would be undesirable. However, the extremist Christians who have leafleted at the big outdoor events were absent this year. Instead, the religiosity I observed is in the context of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a much more relevant and constructive setting. Again, a mixed bag.
The most positive aspect evident this year was the much more pronounced, universally so, expression of our demand for lands and the legal basis for that claim. This is not only the right thing to do, but it keeps the up heat on Turkey. Conversely, the result of a generation’s worth of almost exclusive focus on Genocide recognition is a sense among the new generation that we have to get recognition of the Genocide in order to proceed to our other deman’s, that it is a precondition. We have to work hard to disabuse anyone afflicted with this notion of its correctness.
Tied in to the pursuit of lands is the requisite intellectual/legal support and framework. Our investmen’s in and advocacy of Armenian studies two and three decades ago (though that is much abated now) are starting to pay off. We have to engage a new generation of scholars and lawyers in fields relevant to our struggle.
We should also strive to keep off our stages of people with outsized egos who don’t know how to mitigate them. Having such people speak, with themselves, rather than the issue at hand, being the focus, is at best distasteful.
The intriguing proposition implicitly proposed by the Defense Council of Western Armenia is the laying of claims to lands by the direct descendants of those living in a particular area, specifically, Wilsonian Armenia. Can or ought this replace state or organizational efforts in this vein? Can it reinforce or support the latter? All this should be intensely discussed and evaluated.
What’d you think of this year’s Genocide season? Write to the editor so we can do better, and year round, not just in April.